Legal Words of Wisdom: Legal Resources for People with Cancer

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: July 4, 2009

A diagnosis of cancer brings with it anxiety and stress over treatment decisions and getting well. Taking care of the kids, going to work and paying the bills still have to be done, and the last thing a person with cancer wants to deal with are insurance denials and employment discrimination concerns. As a nurse, I don’t know all the laws related to health insurance and employment discrimination, and many of my patients cannot afford lawyers to help them decipher the laws. But, there are resources for people with cancer when it comes to the legal issues.

People with cancer are often covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act in current or future positions. They may be eligible for Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), as can their caregivers. There are laws governing insurance companies and the use of “pre-existing conditions”. The bottom line is, if you are facing difficulties with your employer or insurance coverage, there may be laws to protect you or programs that can help, and you won’t know until you ask!

The Cancer Legal Resource Center is a program run by the Disability Rights Legal Center and Loyola Law School. The CLRC has a national, toll-free line (1-866-THE-CLRC) that provides callers from around the country with confidential, free information and resources for their situation. The group does not represent callers in lawsuits, but if that is needed, they can refer to legal representation. The CLRC can address many issues, including health, disability and life insurance, employment discrimination, tenant rights, custody issues, immigration and financial resources.

The California Women’s Law Center (1-888-774-5200) provides legal information for women in California. They have a “Breast Cancer Legal Resource Guide” that is available in 5 languages (English, Spanish, Hindi, Samoan and Chinese).

Cancer and Careers is a program that provides an A to Z of employment resources. They have a nice page devoted to legal concerns.

The Patient Advocate Foundation (1-800-532-5274) is a national organization that helps patients gain access to care, maintain employment and preserve financial stability while dealing with their cancer diagnosis. While not technically a “legal resource” they have a wealth of information about insurance and financial issues.

There are many legal groups that provide free or low cost services. You can contact your state Bar Association for help in locating such a service in your area. A great resource is, which helps people with low and moderate income find free legal aid programs in their area.

Ask to speak to a social worker at your cancer center- they are often knowledgeable about resources in your area. Some law schools have programs offering low or no cost assistance to those who qualify, so try your local university.

Remember, many of the laws apply to not just patients, but their caregivers as well. If you are facing difficulty with employment or insurance issues, try these resources to learn about your rights.


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